Shelley Widhalm

Posts Tagged ‘Storytelling’

Catching onto Character Arc

In 52 Writing Topics, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on June 3, 2012 at 11:00 am

As a story unfolds, so does the identity of the characters playing a part in the telling of that story.

The unfolding from the story’s beginning to the middle and to the end is called the arc, or the line of the story. The scenes within the arc build to the top, or the moment of highest tension, before sloping back down into some kind of resolution.

The story arc includes one or several character arcs, depending on how many main characters there are.

The character has to want something, or she already has what she wants and loses it.

The character arc is the line of movement in the story as this character faces her flaws, fears and limitations and overcomes them to get what she wants – or, in some cases, needs but does not initially recognize or acknowledge. The inner (or outer) journey she undergoes along the way causes growth and transformation of who she is.

In my novel “Changing Colors,” my main character Kate wants to replace her lost things from an apartment fire, but her obstacle comes in the form of antique stores and flea markets that don’t have anything except for a teddy bear, not enough to restore her sense of home.

Kate faces setbacks and forces of antagonism up until the crisis event, or climax. Those setbacks thwart her desires and trigger her fears.

As she is tested, her motives increase, giving purpose to her actions. She becomes more determined to overcome her problems and obstacles. At the climax, or her moment of truth, she will have to stay with the status quo and suffer the consequences or change to get something better. What that is for Kate, I haven’t yet figured out.

But I do know that as soon as Kate, or any main character, gets her want or need met, the story is over.

Take 2: Scenes vs. Chapters

In 52 Writing Topics, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on April 15, 2012 at 11:00 am

In story and novel writing, it initially would seem logical that the point where a chapter ends would be the same as when a scene ends.

But it’s not so cut and dry.

A scene can carry over to the next chapter to keep the reader turning the pages unable to resist – as with a potato chip or an M&M – just one more.

Each scene tells a mini story complete with dialogue, action and descriptions. The scenes taken as a whole advance the story or move the plot forward.

A member of my writer’s group pointed out that every scene needs to work as a stand-alone story and bridge to the next scene, or chapter. That way, the scene could be pulled out and stand on its own.

I simply had thought a story or novel was no more than a series of scenes strung together to create the beginning, middle and end.

Taking the advice seriously meant I had to work harder at my writing.

To do this, I try to think of each scene as a take for the stage. I ask what the purpose is for the scene and why I care about what’s happening.

There should be some kind of tension or conflict among my characters. How they act is motivated by their wants and desires, as well as their feelings and reactions to one another.

The main character of the scene should have an objective, face opposition to that objective and endure rising stakes that make his or her choices harder and harder to make.

Scenes can end in various points in the storytelling process. They can end in the middle of the action, at the point of a major decision or when there is new information.

Scene can end:

  • At a strong display of emotion.
  • When raising a question with no immediate answer.
  • When there are changes for a shift in time or place.

Avoid scenes where characters just talk without conflict, that switch between points of view and that introduce a new character’s viewpoint too far into the telling of the story.

If successful, the scenes won’t be noticed, as well as the chapter breaks, if the reader is immersed in the story, almost as if watching a movie.